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Wharton EMBA Student Wins NSF Award for New Venture: Graphene Frontiers

December 14, 2011

Congratulations to East Coast second-year Executive MBA student Mike Patterson for winning a National Science Foundation Innovation Corps Award!

Patterson and his teammates from the University of Pennsylvania were selected for their venture, Graphene Frontiers.  We asked Patterson to tell us about what it means to have won this award and how he became involved with this startup. Here’s what he said:

“Winning the NSF award was great.  Not only did we win $50,000 for our postdoctoral fellow Zhengtang Lao to work on the venture full-time, but we gained credibility.  The NSF picked only a handful of teams nationwide, and so the award is a validation that we’re onto something big.

“Through the EMBA Entrepreneurship Club, I became familiar with Penn’s Center for Technology Transfer and Penn’s UPstart Program, which is a business incubator for technologies developed at the School.

“After hearing the director of UPstart talk about the program to a group of Executive MBA students, I MikePatterson followed up to learn more about UPstart’s technology portfolio to see if there might be a venture I could join.  We zeroed in on Graphene Frontiers, which is working on a less expensive method of manufacturing the nanomaterial graphene.  I looked at the technology and was excited about its huge potential.  It could be like being on the ground floor of plastics in the 1950s.

“After discussions with physics and astronomy professor Charlie Johnson and Zhengtang, who has led the research on this process, we signed a management agreement and I am now the CEO of Graphene Frontiers.

“I’ve always been interested in science and entrepreneurship.  After college, I worked for Freemarkets.com where I fell in love with that startup environment.  Around the time they were acquired, I left to start my own business in international consulting, helping small U.S. companies do business globally.  It was a good company, but it wouldn’t scale into a huge opportunity and a few years later I was offered a position at Bank of America to help build an international platform.

“As a senior vice president of change management and global delivery strategy at the bank, I wanted to pursue an MBA to strengthen my finance knowledge, but my interest in entrepreneurship has continued.  Since I’ve been at Wharton, I’ve been very active in the Venture Capital and Private Equity Club and the Entrepreneurship Club.  And, as I mentioned, we have an Entrepreneurship Club within our EMBA class in which we share ideas and experiences.

“As hard as it is to juggle everything, I’ve managed because my classes are so applicable to the startup.  This semester, I’m taking Entrepreneurial Ventures, which goes beyond the business plan to think about the structure of the business and investments.  And Legal Aspects of Entrepreneurship talks about how to manage duties to your current employer when working on a startup. Out of the gate, that was dead on applicable for me.

“Wharton’s EMBA program has opened so many doors for me in the past two years.  If I hadn’t come to Wharton, I wouldn’t know about Penn’s UPstart program or made these connections.  There are a lot of people interested in entrepreneurship in the EMBA program and I’ve been amazed to find so many resources to support us as we follow our entrepreneurial spirit.”

To read more about Patterson’s team winning the NSF award, click here.

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